Plans to redevelop the Upper Harbor Terminal in north Minneapolis got a big boost Wednesday when Gov. Mark Dayton signed a state bonding bill that includes $15 million for the project.
The money will have to be matched by $15 million from the city of Minneapolis and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, and it will pay for streets, stormwater sewers, pedestrian access and utilities on the little-used site 3 miles north of downtown.
"Without this nothing could happen," said Melissa Lesch, a staff lobbyist for the city. "No one's going to build anything until we take care of the basic infrastructure."
How the city and Park Board will come up with their $15 million and when detailed plans for the site will be made public is unclear. City spokesman Casper Hill said the city, Park Board and developers will come up with a plan for the first phase of the project and take "community input" for an indeterminate period before the plan goes to the City Council and Park Board for approval and discussion of how to come up with the necessary remaining funding.
Since the barges stopped coming in 2015, the Upper Harbor Terminal has been a post-industrial relic. It sits at the end of Dowling Avenue, just east of Interstate 94 where a pocked driveway curves among mountains of gravel and soil on its way to domes full of fertilizer, unused grain elevators and belt conveyors, a decommissioned railroad spur, stacks of green and yellow shipping containers and a massive warehouse that's home to a mushroom farm.
But the city, Park Board and the developers — United Properties, Thor Construction and First Avenue Productions — see the 48-acre site as a potentially transformational project, a future home to affordable housing, offices, stores, restaurants, an amphitheater, parks and trails.
"This was an industrial space, so it was not put together for this kind of use," said Phillipe Cunningham, the council member for the Fourth Ward. "This $15 million is the first step in that investment."
A traffic study is underway. A power line over the site must be moved or buried. The grain elevators and fertilizer domes may qualify for historic status and preservation.
The Dowling Avenue bridge over Interstate 94 is unsafe for bicyclists and unwelcoming to pedestrians, Cunningham said, and that will have to change so the site can connect to the neighborhoods of north Minneapolis.
Park Board President Brad Bourn called the state funding a "critical turning point" for the project. "We are glad to partner with the City on this and we look forward to bringing a world-class regional park to the Mississippi River in North Minneapolis," he said in a statement.